Re: Present tence copulative verbs

From: Ben Crick (
Date: Wed Sep 02 1998 - 13:07:37 EDT

On Wed 2 Sep 98 (08:00:32 +0200), wrote:
> Can you quote any example from English prose of a construction similar
> to:
> "Before Abraham was (or, came into existence), I am."? If this is a
> normal (or possible) way of expression, I am wrong. If there are no
> examples of such constructions, the normal way of rendering John 8:58
> in the versions is mystical rather than grammatical.

 Dear Dan-Ake

 Jesus' statement is deliberately enigmatic (IMHO); hence our difficulty
 in comprehension and translation. It was deliberately designed to promote
 contemplation and discussion: witness the inordinate length of this
 thread! "Mystical" implies "Gnostic" to my mind; hence my choice of the
 word "enigmatic". Genesis 32:29 is enigmatic; the "angel" answered Jacob's
 question with another question. Jacob jumped to the conclusion that it was
 God's face that he had seen (Peniel, verse 30). Manoah asked the "angel of
 the LORD" for his name; again he was answered with another question (Judges
 13:17-18): "it is Wonderful", reminiscent of the same root in Isaiah 9:6.

 The language of the Authorised King James Version of 1611 is certainly the
 "standard English prose" of its period. Some modern translations which try
 to pre-empt what Jesus "meant" are of course suspect. PRIN ABRAAM GENESQAI
 is an adverbial clause of time modifying EGW EIMI; that we have established.

 So we know where Jesus is "coming from": from "before Abraham happened".
 The Jews jumped to their own conclusion about what he was claiming, and
 reacted violently by reaching for stones to throw at the "blasphemer".
 With 20 centuries of hindsight, we are still unclear as to what *precisely*
 Jesus was claiming here. Maybe he only intended this remark as a
 discussion-starter after all. YHWH's "Revelation of the Divine Name" to
 Moses at the Burning Bush has been rightly called an "encryption" rather
 than a "revelation": it begs the question "What does 'eHYeH 'aSheR 'eHYeH
 mean"? We can't discuss that here; even under colour of the LXX EGW EIMI
 hO WN which is secondary, not primary.

 It seems to me that the whole point of the pericope in John 8 is that
 "Abraham saw my day, and was glad". By the eyes of faith, Abraham foresaw
 the coming of the Messiah; he believed; and his faith was counted for
 righteousness. So, IMHO, let's focus on Abraham rather than on Moses!

 We cannot be dogmatic about the enigmatic!


 Revd Ben Crick, BA CF
 232 Canterbury Road, Birchington, Kent, CT7 9TD (UK)

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